There was a time, I recall, when I tried to explain secularisation to my fellow church-goers. Actually it was a conversation in after service “coffee ‘n cake” generated by someone who was annoyed that a nearby lawn-mower had so rudely interrupted our hour of worship, making it difficult for him and others to concentrate. I asked him and the others in our circle to think about their Sunday morning church experiences. Wasn’t it the fact that previously lawn-mowers started up in the neighbourhood after the church service had concluded? What has happened that now they can be heard earlier, even before the Minister’s opening invocation to commence the Sunday morning liturgy? And so, I tried to suggest that this nearby clatter illustrated something profound, a significant, and even spiritual, retreat from what we used to think was a sabbath day of rest as part of our Christian way of life.
These days we experience such taken-for-granted “secularisation” in many other manifestations as well. Consider Christmas. And think about the sustained emptiness that is the result of a predatory commercialism in our shopping precincts. Once there was a broad church-going Christian tolerance of what was referred to as the “silly season”. “Buy early for Christmas!” was the invocation from shop windows as they went into their conventional over-drive, presuming to remind us that we were in December – Christmas was coming! But that was then. Recently, on my early November shopping expedition, Christmas jingles were coming through the supermarket intercom loud and clear.
Angels from the realms of glory/ wing your song o’er all the earth!/ you who sang creation’s story,/ now proclaim Messiah’s birth. Gloria in excelsis is Deo.
That was the Christian carol my 3 year-old son and I had sung with my mother back in 1981 when she had but weeks to live. So I know that. It reminds me of that Christmas.
But then the canned version of that James Montgomery (1771-1854) carol was faded out to make way for “Yah beta watch out … Santa Claus is coming”, followed by Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, “It’s going to be a white Christmas” and other “golden oldies”. In these days sleighbells and baubles encrusted with fake snow have been in our faces for at least 5 weeks and still we have 10 days to go before the magical day!
What are we to do? Is it appropriate for Christians to join in this “Christmas fun”?
The former “silly season” has now been superseded; it now seems quaint and ridiculous in the wake of a commercial tsunami with its imperious tide of “secularisation” – the message that Christ Jesus was born in Bethlehem is a feint echo eclipsed by a chorus of commercialised “wisdom”. The “silly season” makes way for celebrity local politicians who go out of their way to invoke us to “spend local to keep our local businesses viable and by the way have a merry …etc “. Local governments needs to balance their budgets and they can’t afford for businesses to leave town. So Christmas becomes submerged in strategies to generate the “tourism dollar.”
What are we to do? I repeat the question?
Well praise God for sending Christ the King every day. In the meantime my suggestion is to take the time on the 25th December with your household to read the story in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 2 with thanks to God for sending His Son. As preparation, you might read Chapter 1. And if what you need is a Christmas story for a younger generation and young-at-heart, you can always try Angels, Poetry and Hope as your Christmas story.
What are we Christians to do in the face of this “secularised” Christmas?
There are no easy answers to this question. But we should be asking ourselves this: What is the genuine and appropriate celebration for the coming of God’s Son? How are we to forthrightly resist all that is fake? There is no reason to despair. The Scriptures tell us quite straight-forwardly how this celebration is to be lived. It is indeed a celebration about “light”; the light has shone in the darkness and the darkness has not snuffed it out. God has indeed shone His light in our lives and our lives are therefore already living celebrations of Jesus’ coming into the world. We are not to be deceived by “Christmas cheer” that sheds no true light and remains in darkness. And we need to listen again to what the Scriptures tell us about living in the light.
For whatever brings to light is in the light, as it says.
“Wake up, O sleeping one and stand on your feet and Christ shall give you light!”
And so, watch out on all sides how you walk not as [those who are] fools but as wise, making the most of the moment because the days are [filled with] evil.
And further do not be lacking in good sense, but get perspective on what the Lord is wanting done.
And be not drunk with wine which is a complete waste [of time and energy] but be filled to overflowing with the Spirit in conversation among yourselves in Psalms, in hymns and in spiritual songs, singing and making melodious praise with all your heart to the Lord always lifting up your hands in praise to our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father, being willingly dependent upon each other in the holy fear of Christ Himself (Ephesians 5:14-21).